University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

AR State Board Meeting Recap: Charter School Hearings Part II: The Fortunate

In The View from the OEP on November 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm

This post is a continuation of our “Charter School Hearings Part I” blog post chronicling the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, November 1st that featured the applications from six open enrollment charter schools. in our last post, we noted the denial of three of these six applications. For the latter three applicants, the State Board – and the Charter Review Council  had a change of heart. All three of the charter applicants were recommended by the Charter Review Council – and subsequently approved by the State Board of Education.

Chuck Cook of ResponsiveED speaks before the State Board of EducationThe following post will highlight each approved charter application, and provide some brief academic and demographic characteristics of the districts from where these new charter schools will likely draw their new student bodies.

  • We noted the tabling of “America’s Charter School” in our previous post – which was one of two charter school applicants attempting to open new schools in Northwest Arkansas. However, the Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy, proposed to open in August 2013 on 5121 Southwest Runway Drive in Bentonville was more fortunate. The school’s Charter Management Organization (CMO) is Responsive Education Solutions (or ResponsiveED for short), a non-profit CMO based out of Texas. The CMO currently manages 45 campuses in Texas and one online school. In fact, all three of the schools approved by the State Board in the afternoon were ResponsiveED schools. The Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy proposed a school serving 445 students in year 1 in grades K-8 – then adding a grade each subsequent year until the school serves 685 students in grades K-12. The State Board unanimously voted in favor of the charter school. Below is a demographic and academic snapshot of the Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale school districts – which are the districts where Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy will likely pull students (data from the 2011-12 academic year).
 District Name


% FRL % White % Minority % Prof/Adv Math Benchmark

% Prof/Adv Literacy Benchmark

Bentonville SD


28% 76% 24% 91%


Fayetteville SD


41% 70% 30% 84%


Rogers SD


59% 52% 48% 85%


Springdale SD


66% 42% 58% 78%


  • Considering the school’s location, we expect that the majority of the students will come from the Bentonville school district, in which case, the charter school’s makeup might be a student body that is low minority and relatively affluent. We would expect the students in the Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy to perform similar to students in their feeder districts.
  • The fifth applicant of the day, the Premier High School of Little Rock, another ResponsiveED charter school, was approved unanimously by the State Board (despite opposition from the Little Rock School District). Premier High will serve a total of 240 students in grades 9-12. The school will be located on the Arkansas Baptist College campus and will target high school dropouts, as well as those students who are at risk for dropping out.  The charter school’s application notes that students are expected to come from seven different districts. Below is a demographic and academic snapshot of those districts (data from the 2011-12 academic year):
District Name Enrollment % FRL % White % Minority Dropout Rate % Prof/Adv Math Benchmark % Prof/Adv Literacy Benchmark
Benton SD 4,618 38% 83% 17% 1.3% 88% 90%
Bryant SD 8,291 38% 80% 20% 1.7% 88% 90%
England SD 762 75% 54% 46% 3.7% 68% 74%
Little Rock SD 24,049 71% 20% 80% 6.1% 61% 70%
Lonoke SD 1,821 58% 71% 29% 2.1% 81% 81%
North Little Rock SD 8,545 66% 34% 66% 6.2% 66% 74%
Pulaski County Special SD 16,959 54% 48% 52% 0.8% 72% 78%
  • Premier High School of Little Rock could potentially have an an academically and demographically balanced makeup. However, if the school targets dropouts or students at risk for dropping out, then more students may come from the Little Rock and North Little Rock School Districts, which have dropout rates of 6.1% and 6.2 % respectively.
  • The final charter application of the day was also brought forth by ResponsiveED and subsequently approved by the State Board. The Quest Middle School of Pine Bluff application proposed a middle school serving 220 students in grades 5-8 beginning in August 2013 and growing to serve 460 students in grades K-12 by their 5th year. The school will be located within the boundaries of the Dollarway school district (308 S. Blake St. in Pine Bluff) and proposes to enroll students from 4 different districts. Below is a demographic and academic snapshot of those districts (data from the 2011-12 academic year):
District Name Enrollment % FRL % White % Minority % Prof/Adv Math Benchmark % Prof/Adv Literacy Benchmark
Dollarway School District 1,449 91% 6% 94% 60% 63%
Pine Bluff School District 4,573 83% 2% 98% 54% 62%
Watson Chapel School District 3,047 71% 29% 71% 58% 68%
White Hall School District 2,973 40% 77% 23% 83% 88%
  • A perusal of the data above suggests that the students at Quest Middle School will be high minority and high poverty, assuming that fewer students enroll from the White Hall school district. This school’s model (beginning with middle grades, and being situated in a high-poverty, high minority area) is akin to other charter school models in Arkansas (eSTEM, KIPP); thus, it will be interesting to see how differently the students in Quest Middle perform as compared to their peers in the traditional public school districts.
  • The state board did NOT unanimously approve this charter school (which also faced opposition from the Pine Bluff and Dollarway school districts). Here is how the board voted:
    • Jim Cooper (Chair): Yes
    • Brenda Gullet: Yes
    • Jay Barth: No
    • Sam Ledbetter: Yes
    • Alice Mahony: No
    • Toyce Newton: Yes
    • Mireya Reith: No
    • Vicky Saviers: Yes
  • Those Board member voting in the negative cited their belief that Quest Middle would negatively affect the enrollment numbers in the Dollarway school district. However, there are two other interesting points about this vote:
    • First, as Chair of the State Board, Jim Cooper is only required to vote in the event of a tie-breaker. Even without his vote, there was no tie to be broken (there was also no vote from absent Board member Joe Black).
    • Secondly, despite similar opposition and school structure, that the State Board voted against the Exalt Academy  in Pine Bluff earlier that day, but approved Quest Middle. Perhaps answers to these questions will become clear in the coming days.

By the close of the meeting, 50% of those charter schools seeking approval got their wish from the State Board of Education. This is noteworthy since in the past two years, more charter schools have been closed by action of the State Board than have been opened. There are currently 18 open-enrollment charter schools in operation (this includes three eSTEM charter schools – elementary, middle, and high – and two KIPP schools – one in Helena and the other in Blytheville). These three ResponsiveED charters will increase the total open enrollment charter schools to 21 – possibly 22 depending on the fate of America’s Charter School in Lincoln.

It will be interesting to see how these schools progress as they start up. Keep checking back with the OEP as we follow this progression. Don’t forget that if you have anything to add to this discussion, you can always leave us a comment below. We’d love to have you join in!

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